So with January winding down, it’s time to look at who is emerging as the favorites and contenders for conference titles across the nation.
Contenders: Villanova, Pittsburg, West Virginia, Georgetown
Currently the Wildcats are sitting atop the conference with a 7-0 mark, but they have yet to get to the meat in their schedule. Nova still has to travel to every other team on the list and still play UConn and West Virginia at home. Pittsburg has had the most impressive start of any of the conference leaders with big wins at UConn and Syracuse, but they’ve lost momentum in the last week losing to Georgetown at home and then at Seton Hall.
I included the Hoyas on the list, even though they have three losses in conference, mainly because they’ve played the toughest part of their conference slate. Georgetown is the only three-loss team that I think will have a chance to run the table in conference to take the title. They can avenge their two losses to Nova and Syracuse at home and their toughest remaining road games are W.V and Louisville. Neither of the other two three-loss teams (Louisville and Notre Dame) deserves consideration because they simply lack consistency and talent.
By the time the Orange head to Cincinnati they should be on a nine-game win streak and should be 5-0 away from the Carrier Dome. They still have to go to Georgetown, but after last nights thrashing of the Hoyas (out-scoring them 73-42 after the slow start) it’s hard to imagine them dropping that game. The ‘Cuse are among a handful of teams that are serious contenders for the National Title.
I love watching the Big East. There isn’t a more exciting league out there. These teams all have unbelievable talent, but at the same they buy into their coaches system. The league is so big that there are bound to be a few dogs, DePaul, Rutgers, South Florida, but the good outweighs the bad by leaps and bounds.
The Blue Devils are favorites simply because of the abundance of options they look like the most complete team. They do struggle with teams that have athletic powerful bigs even though they are bigger this year than in years past. That being said, they took it to Clemson in the second half Saturday night to complete their sweep of the Tigers, who have one of the most talented players in the paint in Trevor Booker. They still get three games with the two teams sitting a game in front of them, can avenge one of their losses when they get Georgia Tech at home in a couple weeks, and still get arch rival UNC twice (which this years seems like a good thing).
No other teams really jump off the page as a dominant team, but they all have a chance. Everyone knows about UNC’s backcourt problems, but if they can patch that up, they are just a game back in the loss column of the Devils so could still turn it around to compete for the title. The current leaders (Maryland and Virginia) still have six conference road games each and the aforementioned meetings with the Blue Devils. Wake Forest is a dark horse because of their own talent in the backcourt, but they too have been inconsistent. This conference is a mystery wrapped in an enigma place in a riddle.
I’m glad I’m not a fan of Clemson or Georgia Tech. Those schools always seem to have so much talent and then are up and down for the majority of the year before being bounced from the NCAA’s earlier than their supposed to. Wake could be placed into that class. Florida St. Maryland. Hell even Duke. The league is just a consistent disappointment. UNC made their run last year and will probably do so again a couple years from now, but the rest of the league seems to be stuck in the just above mediocre stage. They have the talent, but just can’t make the runs.
I also have to go back and wonder why Boston College and Miami left the Big East? If they saw how it has affected their sports teams would they still have made that jump? It probably still makes more sense that Miami did it, but Boston College eliminated some excellent rivalries by switching and have yet to develop any good ones now. At this point, I would say the switch has been a failure.
Favorite: Michigan State
Contenders: Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio St.
The Spartans have bounced back from their slow non-conference start to dominate early play in the Big Ten. They’ve only knocked off Wisconsin as far as contenders are concerned and still have trips to Madison, as well as two games with Purdue and one with Ohio St. With those games remaining on the docket, it’s obvious that they are a tentative favorite. They’ve gotten much better play from the backcourt though, particularly Kalin Lucas, have got a great balance in scoring and remain one of the deeper teams of the league.
Wisconsin’s title chance will be determined in the next week as they go to Purdue on Thursday and then get Sparty at home next Tuesday. If they get swept they can pretty much write off any chance of the regular season title, but if they do the sweeping they would fast become the favorites. If the most likely scenario occurs, the Badgers split, then they would have to run the table, which will be difficult with road games at Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota.
Purdue has fallen on some hard times losing three of their last five. They did pull off a nice road win in Illinois and beat a Manny Harris-less Michigan team at home. They get a week at home before heading on the road for 3 of 4 including Ohio St and Michigan St. This has got to be an extremely frustrating season for the Boilers after the way the nonconference schedule went.
Ohio St. is the team that may be the biggest threat to Michigan St. for the top seed in the Big Ten Tourney. Other than their road game at Michigan St. they will face their toughest remaining tests on their home floor. Even if they can’t run the table, they have the talent to take the automatic bid from the league come the tournament. Might as well etch Evan Turner in as Big Ten POY now.
How great is it that the Big Ten network has Gus Johnson doing games for them. He makes games that aren’t that entertaining really exciting. I watched Penn St. at Wisconsin last weekend and even though the Badgers made a huge run to come back and take the game in OT, the play in the Big Ten just isn’t as entertaining as other conferences. With Gus doing the game however, it felt like a sweet sixteen matchup. Sometimes I think human cloning would be a good thing. I would’ve watched Iowa at Indiana had clone Gus been doing the game.
Realistically Texas is the only team that may be able to snatch the title from KU. K St. could’ve been on the list if not for that loss at home to Okie St. They would have to run the table and hope that Texas not only beats KU in Austin, and loses another game along the way. Way too many circumstances for the Wildcats to hold out much hope. Texas will only get one crack at KU and is already a game back of them in the loss column. They have the talent to run the table; it’s just a matter of whether or not they can rebound from the rough last week they had.
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks are cruising along at 5-0 with a huge game coming over the weekend. They stomped Missouri as they should’ve and have only been tested in one game so far in the Big 12 (Baylor) in which Collins again showed why he is the unquestioned leader of a team of future NBAers. Do not be shocked if the Jayhawks lose at K St. this weekend (I’m actually expecting it) making the February 8th matchup in Austin the game everyone expected it to be, a Big 12 regular season title game.
When talking about doing an unbelievable job when given a coaching job for the first time in a major conference who has done a better job than Scott Drew? Murder, cover-up, disqualification, and suspension all preceded Drew’s entry into the Baylor program. Drew took over a job where previous coaching careers went to die and that was before the worst scandal in college basketball history. The Bears are a legitimate top-25 team and are very athletic. I may head to the game on Saturday between the Longhorns and Bears and, as KU can attest, the Horns better not take the green and gold lightly.
Vandy may also be undefeated in the conference, but they still have to play the Wildcats twice and 3 of their next four will be on the road. Kentucky has the talent to dominate every game they play, but they have gone cold shooting the ball sometimes this season. The best thing about this team though, is even when they get into those funks, they find a way to win the game. The toughest test they may have left will be in the Lane Kiffin-less Knoxville, where the Vols will try to have another inspired effort in knocking off the second number one team to come calling.
I’m not sure what it is about Kentucky, but I hate them. I hate the fact that they believe themselves to be so high and mighty. I hate that Ashley Judd shows up go their games now that Gillespie is no longer the coach and they’re good again. Can you say bandwagon? I hate that they stole Callipari from Memphis and he left that program under investigation just as he had done to UMass in the 90’s. I hate the fact that those rednecks were incredibly racist in the past when their team lost to Texas Western and now pretend that they were never banning anyone and embrace their black athletes as long as it means they’ll win basketball games. Am I jealous of their success? Indeed I am.
Contenders: New Mexico, UNLV
The Mormons are two games up in the loss column over both the Lobos and the Rebels. The biggest game thus far in the conference is Wednesday night when BYU heads to Albuquerque and I can’t find it anywhere on the television schedule. The Pack obviously need this game more than BYU if they are to stay in the race for the conference, but if BYU upends the Lobos in the Pit then they can probably be ready for the top seed come conference tourney time. They have already beat UNLV at home and their trip to Vegas looks like the only game that may trip them up. Of course the other Mormon school, Utah, is no gimmie given the rivalry that exists there.
UNLV has already won at the Pit but lost a tough one at home to the Utes over a week ago. The Rebels will have to hold serve at home against New Mexico and avenge the losses to the Utah schools to have a chance to catch BYU.
A #10 ranking in the Coaches Poll is entirely too high for the Cougars. A ranking that high would mean that the coaches think they are worth a #3 seed. No offense, but no way. They may be 20-1 but they haven’t beaten anyone and the loss was to Utah St. This league does have three tournament teams, but none should be higher than a 5 come Selection Sunday.
Favorite: Uh…Cal…..or…Arizona St…….how about…….Arizona?
Contenders: Everyone but the Oregons
Goo. You knew we would get this one eventually and yes; I’m saving the worst for last. Ok, we’ll try to figure this one out. Well, the Golden Bears did just sweep the only two non-contenders so that’s something or maybe not, and of course they were both home games. Now they have a four game road trip south first to the Arizona schools then to L.A. Arizona St. had a four game win streak snapped at home to their hated in-state rival Wildcats where they were embarrassed. They’ll be at home this weekend to take on the two Bay schools before heading north for a weekend in the Apple state. Arizona is another bi-polar team who will beat-up a talented Washington team and then lose to the bottom feeding Beavers. They also get the schools from the Bay and who knows what will be the fallout from the weekend. If things hold to form than everyone will split over the weekend.
That brings us to the LA schools who are also 4-3 in the conference. USC has, of course, banned itself from postseason play so I’ll be rooting for them to take the conference title and the committee can just keep the Pac 10 out of the tournament. UCLA will take a trip up to Oregon to take on the bottom-feeders of the conference this weekend and a sweep there would make the Bruins over .500 overall for the first time since they were 2-1. Ugh.